first things first

I really do love the homeschooling life. In fact, I wish I had about three more of me to go around, so one of me could dedicate all day every day to exciting and fun learning pursuits.

Combine that natural enjoyment with a heavy dose of regular “Am I doing enough? Is this working?” doubts and fears, and it’s the perfect recipe for curriculum-discontent and grass-is-greener issues.

This article today reminded me of how good and simplifying it is when the right things stay in focus.

See, we aren’t school teachers. We aren’t really even homeschooling moms. *gasp* We are mothers and we are wives, and we are raising children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Probably, most likely, this is why most of us are homeschooling — we feel it best serves the vision of discipleship that we have. But that word there — serve — is so important. The math and the language, the field trips and the journaling, the classical approach and the unschooling persuasion: they all need to serve this much higher, much broader task of teaching our children about the love of God for them and of how they might live lives of love toward Him.

I loved how, in that article, the mom would realize after reflection that the true goals and hopes for a new year often had little to do with curriculum and much more to do with character growth and personal development. There may be reading struggles to address, or the realization that this year’s choices just really aren’t suited to your personal style — but our eyes are also lifted to higher goals, and we can hear creative ideas spoken by the Holy Spirit as we jot down things like, “connect with each kid,” “see growth in personal responsibility for Johnny”, “more orderly start to the day,” etc. I think it can be easy to feel the lack in areas such as those, but get caught up in the shiny new math curriculum because isn’t it easier to admire glossy pages and hope for change than it sometimes is to stare face to face with our lack as home managers or our children’s sin issues?

We can’t allow the mission to get compromised by forgotten priorities.

I also love discovering what does work for our family, as this mom says. Sometimes I get a little itch to add something new, and sometimes that itch is worth listening to — but once I’ve evaluated what’s worked and how the past year has gone, and where we’re lacking, “new” often looks less like a whole new expensive curriculum and more like a new art project to tackle, a commitment to doing the science experiments, purposing to cook together more often, or taking a walk somewhere new a few times this next year. (And maybe for you and your family, other amazingly fun and creative things the Holy Spirit lays on your heart.)

There may be real learning struggles to address and research, or tears over academics that you really think could be avoided with a new approach — and how wonderful to have the tools we need so readily available to us, and certainly, equipping each child is part of what we’re called to do, with diligence and resourcefulness. But each spring, each October (when the new ideas turn out to not be a shiny and fun as I’d been hoping), each January (when the return after Christmas can sometimes feel a bit dull), I remember: evaluating how we’re doing is important, but it has to be done in light of the high call this homeschooling thing is serving. And suddenly, each time, I see clearly again and feel vision return for the what and how and why of it all.

Jesus first.

Family and character next.

And the rest can take a number.

packed up, put away, and looking forward: january.

There are a very few houses still wearing their Christmas colors, warm colored lights greeting me in the dark mornings as I walk. I’m sure their owners are cringing at how behind they are, and when they will ever find the time, but I wish they could see me smile as I walk by — wistful already as I recall the days of December, their warmth and memories, how they sped by far too quickly, how I wish we could just do that one more time before moving onto the rest of the year.

December passed in its own unique way, as it seems to do each year — this mother and home manager whose heart is full of ideas and plans, who learns every single year to hold such things loosely as real life topples day dreams, only to find that the actual gifts of a Good Father are perfect for us.

Piano performances, choir practices, movie nights, early to bed nights, colds and upset tummies, cookies that taste like the memories of a hundred Christmases past, school winding down and play winding up, first snow, quiet days at home instead of the usual bustle of play dates and get togethers (because viruses), gifts purchased and wrapped and rejoiced over, choral performances that made this mama cry, books read aloud, and suddenly the blessed days of rejoicing and celebration and tradition are upon us, and we revel in it all.

Then it’s over, and we happily let the days slip by as we embrace vacation mode, staying long in PJs, playing with new toys for hours while Mama tries to create some semblance of order. The end of the year purge, making room for new things, getting rid of the broken and unused.

Cold snap. Temps plunging way, way below zero, keeping children inside when frostbite seems to truly threaten. Boys shoveling fast and furiously, coming inside with eyes full of hot chocolate hopes. (Yes, of course yes.) The few days in the 20s and 30s feel like a heat wave, and the play time goes on for hours as they shovel their way through the backyard, creating their very own North Country Roxaboxen.

House projects. Laundry room upheaval, and us short a bathroom, but who cares when there’s long term gain? Slowly we watch it get put back together, and finally the weekend comes when we can vacuum and mop and organize and move in and smile as the washing machine hums its familiar hum.

At last, that means, school.

Fresh starts and new energy escaped me this year, I’ll confess. Oh, those long and often intense days of schooling sounded just like that: long and intense. All I could remember was Cecily up to no good and loose ends left undone every evening and a general feeling of “are we having fun yet?” True story: this happens. It happens to me. Deep in my soul, tentacles of discouragement wrap and bind and pull me down.

But hand to the plow, shoulder to the grindstone, and most of all, heart set on promises: He has never failed me yet.

New routine thought through, fresh pencils, and without any more to-do (because no excuses; that’s what I told myself) we started. To the tune of an unending snowstorm and boys shoveling half the day, and I had to laugh at my carefully laid plans.

You know what?

It was peaceful and fun and synergistic and good.

He has never failed me yet.

So, off we go: into a new year, on a path winding forward, heading towards the rising sun.

new baby.

“Don’t you see that children are God’s best gift?
the fruit of the womb His generous legacy?”

And in the midst of school starting and birthday celebrating, weather cooling and leaves falling, we found out a new baby is coming.

four sisters
Me with my three also-expecting sisters

Some of the first joys have been the other children’s responses, especially Beatrice. She is so very excited, and also so very thoughtful toward me. Another joy is the provision of a new midwife to our area.

Most of all, looking around at the five faces who gather at our table for each meal (and who all follow me around all day long!) and trying to fathom how blessed we are to have these gifts in our lives. Five people God has used me to usher into the world, and now another soul to love and be blessed by.


A short walk last month

Of course the front end brings with it the immediate challenge to give and be stretched, as I balance upset stomach with need for food NOW, and the non-stop waves of exhaustion that bring my days to a screeching halt, sometimes only a few hours in. Life is pared down to most needful (which ends up still being a lot these days, I’m finding) and so school isn’t fun and flashy. Just basic. Diligence is the name of the game. Autumn is slipping by and I’m not out there, walking down leaf-strewn trails and seeking new adventure with my brood each afternoon. Silly, but that’s hard for me, and an opportunity to say firmly to my soul, “Another year. The kids are fine just playing in the yard, and you’re saying YES to a whole new person.” It’s worth the loss of a few tromps in the woods. More than worth it.


Naptime with Cecily

So here we are, already 1/4 of the way through a season of expectation that will culminate in the arrival of Baby #6 next May. I am so, so thankful.



Mornings are mostly still “mine”, with quiet time, walk, and exercise. Sometimes it all goes downhill from there, but I so enjoy the start of the day!


Pretty little girls!


Afternoon snack and read aloud — a [mostly] daily highlight.


Ten weeks. That’s a pro-level bump. Ha!

school days

This past week was a special one: We officially started school! True, there was quite a bit of math and lots of pages of language that had been finished here and there, in pockets of time, but our real honest-to-goodness start was this past Monday. (There are many reasons I love homeschooling, and being able to accommodate our life’s schedule, rather than the other way around, is a huge reason. Some years we begin in August, and this year we pushed it off to enjoy the gift of visitors. In so many ways, curriculum is a tool, not a master!)

There isn’t much new or sparkly about this year. Our rhythm looks similar to past years. The important elements of our day, around which other things just have to fit, remain pretty much the same. This meant a fairly smooth beginning, as the kids all know how to do this. We worked hard and got the week’s requirements finished, and still had time for a good long annual trek in the ADKs with our friends. And an ice cream treat after grocery errands on Thursday afternoon! (Gotta celebrate school and a September that is maintaining highs in the mid-80s!)


Ready and waiting.


In action.


“Free time!” = kids sitting inside and reading. We’ve missed school!


Boys figuring out the rhythm of their days and deciding a jump start is more fun.


slipping into september

September came…

A few weeks with a dear family — continual laughter and friendship and food. What a gift!

And then back to just us.

They love each other. So much.

We’re slipping math and workbooks into the days, but looking forward to one more special guest this week before we break out the new routines. We can’t wait to break it all out — and we’re also loving the fluidity of these weeks.

Soon.

For now, the beauty of transition.

au revoir, august

Our field is finally hayed. The wild tangle of goldenrod and Queen Ann’s Lace is gone, cut and dried and rolled into a momentary pastoral tableau that made me smile with satisfaction before it was carried away on a flatbed farm trailer.

We’re cleaning up from summer, I guess.

Crickets chirp continuously. Are they louder in August, or do I just grow more aware, knowing windows will soon close and then the world will close, too, hemmed in by snow and ice and stillness. A cicada interrupts the monotone symphony and I hush us: Listen! See! Smell! Savor it all, bottle it up, soul fed and ready for a long hibernation and an austere diet of frozen beauty.

We sit in sundresses and shorts still, soaking in sunshine, but keeping cardigans and afghans at the ready, knowing the sun will dip sooner and leave us damp and chilly, smelling autumn in the evening air.

Cupboard doors, closed, hide the shelves I’ve organized, sharpened pencils in jar, curriculum chosen after long deliberations. Fresh notebooks, new chore charts, basket of living books at the ready — but for now, tucked away. Waiting a bit longer.

The end of summer is celebrated here with cakes and presents, thanks to my August babies. Fall will be ushered in the same way, thanks to boys born under harvest moons. The signposts are everywhere, I guess is what I’m saying, and yet… I’m stubbornly, sentimentally lingering. I’m not ready, not quite, not this year. I contemplate pulling out that math program during a quiet afternoon hour but then you grab a glove to play catch and I almost sigh in relief. Yes, let’s do that. Let’s be carefree and in the moment, just for one more day. Or maybe another week? Yes. Grab a blanket and book, listen to the crickets. Let’s do that.

*****